What grounds you? For me it’s the gentle purr of a cat. The peaceful fall of snow against lamplight. A warm, firm embrace. And cinnamon. No matter where my mind is, whether it be under stress or on the high of a possible opportunity — an electrical current coursing — they bring me back down to earth. They give me a moment to pause, to breathe, to close my eyes and smile.
So when it snowed on the first day of spring, my brain frustrated from staring at research and trying to edit on an 11-inch screen, I stepped into my kitchen and watched our one tree being blanketed swiftly with white as the sky became greyer and greyer, then darkened towards nightfall, pink and purple in the cloudy city sky, and knew that I also needed to inhale the aroma of butter and chocolate and oatmeal and cinnamon. The frustration of technology, and not having a printer, required a double dose of grounding. I needed oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies to connect me back with the earth, my sanity, myself.
When I sprint around the track during a speed workout, or towards the finish line of a race, I imagine that I look like Meb Keflezighi, or Deena Kastor, or Kara Goucher at their best in the long stretch of a marathon. Feet barely whipping the ground as they cycle behind me, propelling me forward in a controlled fall. In truth, even when I’m sprinting I probably look like the brave masses chugging along up the tortuously subtle hill of Fifth Avenue in the 23rd mile of the New York City Marathon, quads burning, feet shuffling. Or hopefully somewhere in between. When I set out to make cookies, too, I often imagine them to be spectacular, show-stopping. But sometimes the humble truth of the rest of the pack, the tens of thousands only gunning for personal victory in the form of a finish after 26.2 miles, is even more heart-warming, more inspiring. These apple oatmeal cookies are like that: kind of imperfect, they’re spectacular because they have heart.
When I decided to make these, I wanted them to taste like the tops of the oatmeal blueberry banana muffins: pops of sweet flavor set off by cinnamon, nuts, and salt. I’d made apple oatmeal cookies before, but only once or twice, always wanting to be impressed but never fully satisfied. There are so many oatmeal cookies out there that are just sweet. There’s nothing more to them, despite the teaspoons of cinnamon added. And here’s one thing we should discuss: removing sugar isn’t always the answer. Remember now that while sugar is usually your main sweetener, it also is an ingredient that helps set the consistency of your baked goods, just as eggs and flour and fats do. That’s not to say that absurd amounts of sugar in a cookie or cake shouldn’t be questioned. Often they should. But sometimes the answer is the other white, granulated item in the pantry: salt.
A video went viral recently in which an explorer and documentarian, clad in a heat-protective suit, climbed down into the crater of Manu, an active volcano on the island archipelago of Vanuatu, later describing it as a “window into hell,” like looking into the center of the earth. The churning, bubbling, exploding sea of lava before him sent chills down my spine, in utter awe of the life within our world. But in those crashing waves I also saw something else: I saw a pot of sweet, spicy, boiling, churning oatmeal.
It’s one of my favorite sounds: milk and oats, rising and colliding and becoming more than they were alone. Expanding, creating. I have my method: milk, brown sugar, a healthy dose of cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Bananas folded in off the stove, topped with sliced almonds and another sprinkling of cinnamon. Toss in some blueberries and it’s heaven on a cool morning. Delicious, filling, and – time consuming. It got me thinking: can I make this in muffin form, for an easy, grab-and-go breakfast treat?